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2"A                                                                                                                  B. POLEVOI
"The devils! They had no reason to chase you about
like that! You are a remarkable, a ... I really don't know
how to express it ... an exceptional fellow!'.. But after
all, they were right: men without feet don't fly."
"But they do! Look at this." And Meresyev showed
him the magazine clipping, the Army Surgeon's opinion,
and the paper directing him to the Personnel Department.
"But how will you fly with no feet? You are a funny
chap! You know the saying: a footless man will never
make a dancer."
Had anybody else said it, Meresyev would certainly
have taken offence, and probably would have flared up
and said something rude to him; but the captain's face
beamed with such good-will that Alexei jumped up and
said with boyish impudence:
"Never, you say? Well, look!" And with that he started
a wild step-dance in the middle of the waiting-room.
The captain watched him with admiration for a time
and then jumped up and without saying a word snatched
up Alexei's papers and vanished behind the door of the
chief's office.
There he remained for quite a time. Hearing the subdued
sounds of conversation corning from the office, Alexei felt
his whole body grow tense, and his heart throbbed rapidly
and painfully, as if he were driving in a fast machine.
The captain emerged from the office pleased and smil-
ing.
"Well," he said. "Of course, the general won't hear of
you going into the flying personnel, but this is what he
has written: 'Applicant to be appointed to serve in M.C.B.
without reduction of pay or rations.' D'you get that?
Without reduction___"
Instead of joy, the captain was amazed to see indigna-
tion flare up in Alexei's face.
"M.C.B.! Never!" he shouted. "Don't you understand?
I'm not worrying about rations and pay! I'm an airman!
I want to fly, to fight! ... Why don't people understand
that? What can be simpler?..."
The captain was perplexed. This was a queer applicant
indeed. Another man in his place would have danced for
joy ... but this one! A sheer crank! But the captain was
beginning to like this crank more and more. He sincerely